Our Voyages: Train Trip Across America

IMG_9542Two weeks ago we finished our NYC adventure with a 60 hour train trip across the United States. We couldn’t have predicted it when we booked the tickets in February, but it ended up being a helpful bridge between NYC and CA. It distracted us many times from the fact that we were leaving a city we had fallen in love with and friends we had become close to. The idea of taking a train across the country was planted by my dad about six months before we even left for NYC. Rob and I dismissed it initially, assuming that you couldn’t do something like that in 2015. Then a Lyft passenger mentioned she had taken her boyfriend on an across country train trip and had a blast. That helped pique my interest and I started considering it more seriously. It seemed fitting to end our time in NYC with a cross country expedition since that was how it started over a year ago. The Excursion

NYC Penn Station => Washington DC Union Station

  • This leg took about three hours.
  • We checked our bags in DC to be transported through to San Francisco.
  • We hung out in the Amtrak Lounge, enjoying free goldfish and noticed that our fellow passengers were at least 50 years older than we were.

Washington DC Union Station => Chicago Union Station (Capitol Limited)

Union Station Chicago

  • Our first overnight leg. It took about 17 hours.
  • Saw a lot of beautiful fall colors in Virginia and West VirginiaIMG_9348
  • We spent the first five minutes sitting across from each other in our roomette just staring at each other. Neither of us knew what to do and I was a bit nervous this was how we would spend the next three days.
  • There was a five hour layover in Chicago so we took in some sights, worked out, and grabbed a healthy lunch at Whole Foods.
  • Our first night’s sleep was a bit rough. The sounds and movement of the train weren’t as lulling as I had hoped. There was also the unfortunate incident of the old man, the bathroom, and me at 3am. Lesson learned: sometimes people forget to lock public bathroom doors.

Chicago Union Station => Emeryville Amtrak Station (California Zephyr)

  • This was the longest leg of the trip, taking about 40 hours.
  • From Chicago to Denver we saw a lot of plains and fields that seemed to go on forever. It was interesting in the beginning but after a few hours it got repetitive and slightly boring.IMG_9523 (1)IMG_9374
  • Denver to Salt Lake City had some of my favorite scenery. We climbed through the Rockies, chugged alongside rivers, and disappeared into tunnels for minutes at a time.

    River through the Rockies

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  • Salt Lake City to Truckee, CA had scenery ranging from large, intricate mountain ranges in the distance to beautiful old redwood trees right next to the train.IMG_9549 IMG_9383

All of the sightseeing was done from the viewing car of the train. While we made several stops along the way, we didn’t stop longer than about 7 minutes at a station and that was only at designated smoke stops. Most stops were only a minute or two long so there was no time to do anything more than step out, stretch your legs, and get a breath of fresh air before the conductor yelled “All Aboard” and we were off again.

The viewing car.

The Accommodations  We had a roomette on both the Capitol Limited and the California Zephyr. Our roomette came with two seats facing each other, a tray table that could be pulled out in the middle, a narrow closet, and one shelf area for storage. In the evening, the car attendant pulled the seat bottoms together to make the bottom bed and pulled the top bed down from the ceiling. When the room was in “bed mode” there was only enough floor space for one person to stand. We had to get really good at coordinating with each other while we were getting ready for bed.IMG_9517

There were multiple bathrooms and one shower that we all shared with the other roomette guests in our car. To have your own bathroom, sink, shower and a little more floor space, you could splurge on an actual bedroom (we paid $1000 and the room would have been $2000). I think the next time we take an extended train trip, (yes, we’ve already talked about taking the Pacific Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle next year!) I would pay more to have the room. I didn’t like sharing the bathrooms and especially didn’t like brushing my teeth in the shared bathroom. I didn’t mind sharing the shower. It was the size of a regular stall shower so there was plenty of elbow room and it had a room next to it to change. I would probably use the public shower even if we had our own.

The Journey  A fellow journeyer said that he thought of plane travel as a means to an end and saw train travel as an end in itself. He described perfectly how I feel about our trip. The goal obviously was to get us back to CA, but all of the beautiful scenery we saw and the characters we met, made the trip itself its own amazing end.  

All of our meals were included in our ticket price (excluding alcohol and snacks that could be purchased in the snack car) and the experience of eating each meal in the dining car was probably my favorite part of the trip. I enjoyed making a reservation for dinner, and I had a lot of fun chatting with each of our different meal companions. They were all kinds of different people. The minister who ordered a bottle of wine for dinner, the couple who brought their own spice, Peri Peri, with them everywhere because they love spicy food, and the guy who overshared about his divorce. We were even impressed with the food. There wasn’t much variety, but everything was done very well. We both had one of the best steaks we’ve had in awhile on our last night. They were able to cook it to the exact medium rare that we love, which we weren’t expecting from a kitchen on a train.IMG_9548

We spent our days working, taking in the passing scenery and playing card games. After the first rough night of sleep, I purchased earplugs which enabled me to sleep deeply the second and third nights. The rocking and swaying of the train ended up being very relaxing. I honestly enjoyed our experience and would love to share it with our friends and family in the future. There are many other lines that Amtrak offers, in different parts of the country, and I hope to travel on them all someday.IMG_9538

Happy Hour

Sunrise and Coffee

Arriving in DC

Our Voyages: New England and Apple Picking

IMG_8004Labor Day through Halloween is the happiest time of the year for me. If I haven't mentioned it enough, I love the fall. I especially love fall on the east coast (particularly New England, but NY isn’t half bad!). It has been a top priority for me to cram as many fall related activities into our schedule before we leave since I don’t know when we will experience a true fall season again. October is gearing up to be a busy month of fall/Halloween activities such as shopping for pumpkins and gourds of all sizes, hosting a pumpkin carving party, taking a stroll through Central Park once the leaves have changed, cozying up on the couch with hot cider and a good book, and Halloween costume shopping. There were two things on my list for this fall that have already been crossed off: a visit to New England and apple picking!IMG_9053IMG_4258 Thirty minutes outside of Manhattan is Dr. Davies Apple Farm. When Rob’s parents were in town, we rented a car and drove up there for a Monday afternoon of apple picking. The leaves had changed a bit and the temperature was low but not cold so it really felt like a fall outing. We all had fun taking turns using the medieval looking apple picker to grab a limited variety of apples off the tall trees, though I think we had more fun posing my in-laws with said picker. We still have a few of the 68 apples we picked left and I am looking forward to making an apple pie!

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As I mentioned, the New England fall season is my absolute favorite fall season. The changing leaves seem to be more vibrantly yellow and orange, and the sun seems to shine brighter and set more brilliantly. Luckily for me, I have an aunt and uncle who live outside of Boston so when my mom, brother and sister came to visit we planned a weekend trip to visit them and enjoy some New England fall. We cozied up on the couches in our pjs and watched Netflix under heavy blankets, ate chicken noodle soup, took walks around their neighborhood and got some quality family time. And all of this was done with my favorite season as our backdrop.

Unfortunately, none of our New England pics show the changed leaves.

I hope to come back every October to breathe in the crisp air, gaze at the changed leaves and relive the two falls we lived here, but in case that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, I am trying to savor as much of this 2015 fall season as I can before we leave.

Our Voyages: Anniversary Trip to Bermuda

IMG_3861Rob and I got a surprising geography lesson at dinner with friends a few months ago. First we learned that Bermuda and the Bahamas are not the same place. Ok, we probably already knew that, but if you don’t really think of either place often it is easy to confuse the two. Second we learned that, Bermuda is not in the Caribbean. This bit of information is what really shocked us. I had been living my life assuming that Bermuda was an island off of Florida. I’ll admit I never really looked at a map to confirm this, but what I knew about the island- beaches, warm weather, clear water, cruise ship ports- all made me assume it was in the Caribbean. It turns out it is about 1000 miles away! In case this is news to you too, Bermuda is due east from South Carolina and the closest landmass is Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, 640 miles away (confused? Check out the map).  It is closer to New York than to its other buddies in the Beach Boys song Kokomo. Because of it’s proximity to NY, Rob suggested checking out Bermuda for our second anniversary celebration. Haselmere Bed & Breakfast

Our anniversary is in October which is my favorite month, especially on the east coast. I love the fall weather, colors, and how the crisp air makes me feel.

This and our hosts greeted us at the airport

We planned our stay in NYC to last two months longer than we told our family and friends it would, just so that I could experience two fall seasons. So it was important to me, while planning this anniversary, to make sure that it didn’t take any time away from our time on the east coast in the fall. We decided to celebrate our anniversary two months early and take the trip in August. And since we were already going to be in travel mode from three weeks in CA, we thought why not tack Bermuda onto the end of that trip? And so, we ended our trip to CA with a relaxing vacation in Bermuda.

IMG_3890Being in Bermuda turned out to be what we needed more than we thought we would. After traveling all over CA visiting friends and family, it was nice to unwind in a beautiful, tranquil and quiet country. My favorite beach was Turtle Bay. A small beach on the west side that is hard to get to or even know about without the help of a local. We only made it there for a brief swim once with our hosts from the bed and breakfast we stayed at for the first two nights. There were so few people there that it felt like we were let in on a wonderful Bermudian secret. We also saw a couple of leatherback turtles, from which the beach gets its name, as they popped their heads out of the water to say hi. It’s a hard place to get to by bus and there were so many beaches we wanted to see that we felt we couldn’t go to the same beach more than once, even though we wanted to.

Sonja Friendly Beach

All of the beaches were what I call “Sonja friendly”. The sand was soft and white, the water was spectacularly clear, there were weren’t a ton of fish and the waves just barely lapped at the water’s edge. All of these things meant that Rob had no problem convincing me to get in the water on more than one occasion. I even went snorkeling, which is normally unheard of for me (I don’t enjoy seeing what is swimming in the water with me). Usually I can be heard screaming through the snorkel and trying to get as far away from the darting fish as I can. But in the Bermuda water, I remained relatively calm and the few fish I saw were very pretty. There was one exception though: I got caught in a large school of multiple types of fish and my calm demeanor flew out the window.

Before: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

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Too. Many. Fish.

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Two things surprised me about Bermuda. The prices of food and the lack of crowds. The high food prices make sense because nearly everything has to be imported. Each meal was at least $50, even lunches! The uncrowded beaches and city streets are what really had me wondering. We never got a real answer as to why it seemed so quiet, but most people agreed it was probably because a lot of schools were about to start again or had started, so families weren’t traveling anymore. It made the peaceful country even more peaceful and we enjoyed not sharing the beaches and sights with throngs of people.IMG_3991

Another thing that I noticed was how friendly everyone was. Every person we passed on the street said hi, and any time we needed directions or restaurant recommendations, people went above and beyond to help us out. I have been trying to emulate this behavior since our return to NYC and while the looks I get from some New Yorkers when I say hi to them aren’t very welcoming, it has made me feel happier (and I know it makes them feel happier deep down too).

View from our balcony in Hamilton.

Bermuda was marvelous and the weekend was beyond compare. We laughed at the amount of times we day-dreamed about bringing our families back and sharing it with them, but Bermuda is a place that you want to share with those you love.

Breakfast at our bed & breakfast

Pit stop on our walk through St. George

My little friend Albert chilling in the house.

Half finished church in St. George- photo by Rob

Goofing around in St. George

Anniversary date night in Hamilton

Our Voyages: 5 Tips for a Hometown Vacation

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There is no better cure for the inevitable homesickness you'll feel when you move away, than going home. I hadn't been fully aware just how homesick I was until we landed in San Francisco three weeks ago. The relief and happiness that came with arriving in the city I think of as home was met with a bit of trepidation because I knew this was going to be a whirlwind trip. Visiting your hometown (or wherever you consider to be home) can be a tricky and exhausting trip. You want to see EVERYONE, EVERYONE wants to see you, and there are about a gazillion places you want to eat at and things you want to do before you leave. Scheduling all this is no easy feat and it took many years of coming home from college to feel like I am finally close to getting it right. These are five tips I try to follow for planning and executing a successful trip home:

Do Not Over Plan  If it can be helped, try not to plan each hour of each day out too far in advance. Having room to be spontaneous will make the trip feel less stressful than when you are "going going going" from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. This has always been a hard one for me because I am a planner, but on this trip I let our moods guide us a lot more than I usually do and it made for a more relaxing trip overall.

Balance Social Activities  Of course it would be great to get one on one time with each one of your friends, but there aren't enough hours in the day to do that. So balancing one on one friend and family hangout time with group family and friend hangout time is key. We went wine tasting with a group of our friends in Sonoma and it was a great way to catch up with multiple people without feeling rushed.

Make a Short List  Homesickness is not only about missing friends and family. It's also about missing your favorite coffee shop, ice cream place, corner store or nail salon. Along with spending time with my BFF and siblings, my short list included eating at least one burrito (anywhere would do) and drinking at least one beet juice (from Greens and Company). Once those two things were checked off my list I felt more at ease about leaving San Francisco again.IMG_8640

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Don't Forget Your Significant Other  Plan out a bit of time to hang out with him or her and do some of the things you liked to do together when you were living there. It's very easy to go on a trip home with your significant other and get back from the trip feeling like you haven't seen each other in months. Rob and I weren't as good about this but we did have a mini road trip together from SF to LA where we got to chat and be together which was a nice break from the rest of the trip. We also ended the last three weeks with a vacation to Bermuda, so getting time together in CA wasn't as imperative.

Be Present  This is probably my most important tip! It's very easy to get caught up in all the planning and scheduling and forget to enjoy the time you're spending with your family and friends. My trick for staying in the moment is making lots of toasts no matter what kind of beverage is being consumed. It brings people into the moment and reminds them to be thankful that you're all together.